The stage is set for the all northern clubs 2019 Aiteo/Federation Cup finals as Kano Pillars battle Niger Tornadoes on Wednesday, July 24 at the 16,000 capacity Ahmadu Bello stadium in Kaduna.
Kano Pillars set up the final match with Tornadoes after an excruciating semi-final victory over rejuvenated Calabar Rovers in one of the semi-finals played on July 4 in Makurdi.
Tornadoes also shocked many football pundits when they ended the continental dreams of their more illustrious opponents, Rivers United with a 2-1 win at the Agege township stadium on the same day.
It is interesting to note that apart from the fact that the two gladiators are from the northern part of Nigeria, both had suffered painful losses in recent Aiteo Cup finals.
While Akwa United defeated Niger Tornadoes in the 2017 finals played at the Agege Township stadium, Kano Pillars squandered a 3-0 lead to lose 4-2 on penalties to Enugu Rangers in the 2018 finals played in Asaba.
Although Kano Pillars were winners in 1953 when the competition was named Governor’s Cup they are yet to taste glory beginning from the time the championship’s nomenclature changed from FA Cup to the Challenge Cup, then Federation Cup and now Aiteo Cup.
After their 2-1 victory over Lagos Dynamos in the finals of the then Governor’s Cup, Kano Pillars have reached three finals without victory.
They lost 3-0 to Calabar Rovers in the 1954 finals, El-Kanemi Warriors defeated them 1-0 in 1991 and Enugu Rangers staged a historic comeback to beat them 4-2 on penalties in 2018.
So Wednesday’s final offers Kano Pillars the opportunity to appease their teeming fans for the painful loss to Enugu Rangers and also win their first FA Cup in 66 years.
Even as Tornadoes may be seen as underdogs in this year’s finals, they also boast of a title won in 2000 when they defeated Enugu Rangers 1-0.
Tornadoes were also losing finalists in 1982 when they lost 4-1 to Stationary Stores of Lagos and in 2017 when Akwa United edged them 3-2 on penalties.
The ‘Ikon Allah’ boys as Tornadoes are called are certainly no pushovers in this competition but on current form, Kano Pillars who boast of some of the best players in domestic football are highly favoured to win their second title.
However, Pillars have been warned by their Deputy Governor, Dr. Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna not to underrate their opponents.
While addressing the players at the Sani Abacha stadium on Thursday, the Deputy Governor who doubles as president of Youth Sports Federation of Nigeria, YSFON, told the players to learn from past mistakes.
Gawuna also promised adequate motivation for the team as he said everything they need to prosecute the match with Tornadoes has been provided by the state government.
“What you have achieved is a unique feat. You have made it back to back in the finals. You were there last year and you are there again this year. Insah Allah, that Cup is ours.
“I want to call on you to continue doing what you are doing. Make improvements where necessary. You should not be over confident about yourself but that should not make you to be discouraged.
“You are the best team in the country at the moment, as far as I am concerned. Your welfare and everything has been taken care of.
“I will make sure the governor, His Excellency, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is there at the finals and together we shall lift the trophy Insah Allah. I have no doubt about that,” he said.
Speaking to Trust Sports in the same vein, the coach of Pillars, Ibrahim Musa assured that they will do everything humanly possible to atone for last year’s defeat to Rangers.
He said Niger Tornadoes also boast of experience in the competition but Pillars will go all out for victory on Wednesday.
“We are highly motivated ahead of the finals with Tornadoes. The government and people of Kano State are fully behind us and we are not going to let them down.
“Many people are of the opinion that we would have an easy ride over Tornadoes but we are not taking chances. We are giving the match maximum attention,” he said.
Pillars captain, Rabiu ‘Pele’ Ali also shared in the optimism expressed by his coach as he said nothing will be taken for granted against Tornadoes.
He said Pillars have learnt from their loss to Enugu Rangers and would not repeat the same mistake in this year’s finals.
“We are still pained by the defeat against Rangers. It was a bitter lesson which cost us a lot.
“Our collective decision is to make amends this year. We want to make history and this is a golden opportunity,” he said.
Interestingly, the camp of Tornadoes is also in confident mood ahead of the finals. Although they may not boast of big names in their squad, the 1982 and 2017 losing finalists are ready to spring a surprise.
The coach of Tornadoes, Abubakar Bala told Trust Sports that even as Kano Pillars have ‘big names’, his team is technically and tactically superior and should have no problem beating them.
He said “Expectation is very high. Though it is not long that I took over the team, we are preparing very well.
“The state government and the management of the club are giving us all the necessary support to ensure that we have a very successful final in Kaduna.
“This is our second finals in three years and we want to make it count. By the grace of God we would make it.
“I am confident because even as we have respect for Pillars, we are technically and tactically better. We believe we have all it takes to beat Pillars,” said the former Kwara United coach.
His captain and longest serving goalkeeper, Mustapha Aliko also agreed that the underdog status being given to Tornadoes by pundits is welcomed as he said it won’t stop the ‘Ikon Allah’ boys from doing the business against Pillars.
“We are aware of our rating in some quarters simply because we have dropped out of the NPFL to the lower league. This will serve as motivation for us against Pillars.
“We want to prove a point that we are still a force to reckon with in Nigerian football. Even as we already have a continental ticket in our kitty, the motivation to win this year’s Aiteo Cup is still strong,” he said.
A top official of the Nigeria Football Federation, Emmanuel Adesanya told Trust Sports that the Kaduna State Football Association is excited and ready to host the Nigerian football fraternity on Wednesday.
He said the choice of Kaduna is strategic because it is easily accessible to fans of both finalists.
“The Kaduna FA and people of the state are happy to host the biggest football fiesta in Nigeria.
“We have received assurances from the FA Chairman and Secretary that Kaduna State will host a hitch-free final come this Wednesday,” he said.